Cambridge Liberal Democrats have criticised the Labour-run City Council after a new report showed sharply worsening satisfaction with its council housing.
The figures, from an independent report commissioned by the Council and published online, show that satisfaction with the housing service had decreased across almost all domains as compared to when the Council was controlled by the Lib Dems in 2014.
Housing spokesperson Cllr Anthony Martinelli commented:
"It is hugely disappointing, but not surprising, to see these results published. We have seen repeatedly over the last few years that council tenants have been taken for granted. This is reflected in these reports: every single group of respondents from tenants to leaseholders feel that the quality of their housing and their living experience has decreased since 2014.
"Some the Council's most vulnerable tenants - those in sheltered housing - report a catastrophic 15%-point fall in satisfaction with the service provided since 2014. These residents, who are often elderly and in need of assistance, also report drops in the quality of their homes and their living experience. It seems that such residents are simply not a priority for Labour councillors - who repeatedly voted to cut the Council's shopmobility service and do not include any plans for further sheltered housing their building programme, despite it being an area of growing need.
"Significantly, we know that dissatisfaction with the housing service predates the pandemic - last January the Cambridge News found that one in nine council homes in the city were classed as not decent to live in. We can also see from the Council's own reports that complaints about housing have doubled since 2018 - with particular worries about delayed repairs. This mirrors our experience: from the distressing accounts of residents concerned about their safety in the Kingsway fires last years to the frequent complaints we receive about damp and uncleaned communal areas, we know that our residents' experience continues to deteriorate. We've proposed fixes - like funding a review of repair standards - which have been voted down by the ruling group.
"Finally, it is very surprising that this survey was not undertaken until 2020. Surveys like this should be performed at least every four years - and had the crucial all-up elections that were planned for May 2020 not been postponed, residents of Cambridge would have been none the wiser when casting their vote. Unsurprisingly even now it isn't subject to the normal council press release, despite offering a important and graphic picture on how the council is doing as a landlord.
"It is important that people know their choice between a Lib Dem council that cares about providing quality housing and a Labour council that has lost interest.”
The City Council's Liberal Democrat opposition have proposed funding an initial report into redeveloping Cambridge's Queen Anne Terrace car park, aiming to provide affordable housing for key workers as part of the scheme.
The car park, located on Gonville Place, is one of the least used in the city but would be within walking or cycling distance of both the biomedical campus and the historic centre where many key workers are employed.
Housing spokesperson Cllr Anthony Martinelli commented "Redeveloping the Queen Anne Terrace car park strikes us as a fantastic opportunity to help address the city's housing crisis whilst reducing congestion and pollution in the city centre. In particular, we think now is the time to start building homes for those key workers who have made such huge contributions to our city during the pandemic.
"We believe it is important that the Council works to provide a diversity of housing options. We know that many key workers in both the public and private sector - including nurses, teachers and supermarket workers - currently struggle to afford to live in Cambridge, which is really damaging for the fabric of our society. At the moment, the Council offers little for these residents, who are often deemed to be a low priority on the Housing Needs Register.
"We are clear that these new homes would need to be built to the highest possible sustainability standards. Alongside reducing traffic into the city and encouraging use of public transport, our project would therefore aim to address the climate crisis and combat air pollution.
"There are many issues that would need to be analysed in great detail before breaking ground - not least the ongoing provision of the sports facilities at Kelsey Kerridge and the options for using parts of the redeveloped space for commercial activities. Our report would aim to investigate these thoroughly.
"We were disappointed when the Labour administration opted to convert the Park Street Car Park into a hotel and we would avoid repeating this mistake. We also hope that commissioning a report in advance would help avoid the multiple delays and complications that have beset that project - including most recently the threatened installation of a telephone mast on Jesus Green."
Thanks to the work of Liberal Democrat councillors, Queen Edith’s has today set an important precedent in how we build sustainable communities by prioritising a proportion of affordable housing for qualifying people with a local work or family connection.
When the Netherhall Gardens application for outline permission to build 200 homes north of Wort’s Causeway came to planning committee today, it was always likely to be a long debate. It turned into a mammoth session with members of the public and Queen Edith's Lib Dem councillor Colin McGerty levelling some harsh criticism at the design.
But having engaged with the developer from the outset, Cllr McGerty also had some praise for the applicant’s willingness to work with the community and for their support for our innovative proposal that affordable housing be provided that is within a short walk or cycle ride of people’s work or family, helping to deliver a sustainable lifestyle for this new neighbourhood and reduce commuter traffic. The application is also one of only a few to deliver a biodiversity net gain within the development while also funding improvements to nearby nature reserves.
The issue of greatest contention was the lack of a walking and cycling link to the north of the development. Cllr McGerty told the committee "A truly permeable neighbourhood should provide these links and not to do so makes access to shops, schools, doctors and neighbours less appealing on foot or bike and risks damaging the proper integration of this new neighbourhood with the existing Queen Edith’s community."
Added to comments from The Cambridge Cycling Campaign and others, the committee agreed to add a condition that the developer must renew their efforts to secure the land needed for a link path.
Following a lengthy debate that encompassed management of the County Wildlife Site, drainage and water use, the lack of new bus services and money for local schools and services, the application was passed by the committee.
Cambridge City Liberal Democrats are celebrating the first successful opposition amendment to the City Council's housing budget in over a decade.
The ruling Labour group and tenant representatives accepted their project to improve water conservation in the city's 7000 council homes.
The £50,000 scheme is focused on exploring water conservation options for existing council housing stock, to establish the feasibility and cost of water saving retrofitting measures, with a view to providing a practical lead that others can follow.
Lib Dem Housing spokesperson Cllr Anthony Martinelli commented:
"We are delighted that the Council has agreed to fund our project to look at improving water conservation in our city. Council houses represent around 15% of homes in Cambridge so reducing our water footprint is really important for sustainability.
"We know that our region is one of the driest in the country and that this threatens the unique ecosystems in our area including the River Cam and our chalk streams. This work will mean we can look at options including increased provision of water-saving devices and initiatives such as greywater recycling, which will have the added benefit of saving money for tenants.
"We hope that the Council leading on this will prompt a bigger conversation in Cambridge about what other major accommodation providers, such as the universities, could do to help on this most pressing issue.
"Local politicians are often criticised for failing to work together, but on this occasion we were very pleased to win support from across the political spectrum. Though we continue to believe the Council needs to be much more radical on dealing with the climate crisis, this project is a step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing the results.”
Liberal Democrat councillors in Cambridge reacted to this morning’s publication by City and South Cambridgeshire Councils of the sites being bid for by landowners wanting to be allowed to develop in the next Local Plan. (Pictured: leader of Cambridge Lib Dems Cllr Tim Bick).
City Council Lib Dem Leader Cllr Tim Bick said:
"This is at present an unfiltered list of sites promoted by landowners for development. There now needs to be a democratic process between the city and district councils to shape a plan which meets the needs of our area in an acceptable way - and we will be strong participants in that.
"We want Cambridge to be both socially inclusive and to remain a successful global centre of excellence and contributor to the national economy, but to preserve its unique underlying character. Too many people struggle or are forced out for us to be happy with the status quo. The future local plan will need to meet more housing and employment need and we want to see it met with a strong emphasis on sustainability. The measure of “need” has not yet been analysed or agreed.
"For Cambridge and its edges, it is important to make efficient use of the existing built-up area, especially remaining brownfield sites, so long as this isn’t at the expense of vital amenity space. But we expect that the majority of new development will come from the major opportunities at Cambridge Airport and North East Cambridge, which are both highly sustainable sites. Though these have been regarded as developable for some years, they weren’t available to be included at the time the current local plan was prepared - but that has now changed.
"Unsurprisingly developers are now bidding for many other sites which have been evaluated and rejected in previous exercises because they were not consistent with the compact character of the city and what was truly distinct about its historical and landscape setting. We don’t know of any reason why that should change this time."
(Pictured below: a map of sites proposed by landowners for development).
Liberal Democrat councillors have condemned financial mismanagement which has left £10million of Housing Revenue Account money intended for improving council housing unspent, whilst 1 in 9 of the Council’s properties fall short of decent homes standards. (Pictured: Liberal Democrat Councillor and council house tenant Jennifer Page-Croft, with a friend and fellow tenant to the left).
Cllr Anthony Martinelli, Lib Dem Housing Spokesperson, commented “It is extremely worrying to see that the Council has failed to spend funds intended for improving council homes. This is a huge and growing problem, with £6million underspent last year and millions more this year - this is revenue that should be invested in the city’s housing rather than left idle.
“This year the Cambridge News reported that one in nine council homes are failing to meet minimum standards for safety and comfort - it is clear that there is enough money to fix this, but it does not seem to be a priority for the Council.
"I worry that whilst Council workers are doing their best, there are simply not enough of them to deliver the volume of work needed to bring things back up to scratch.
“Whilst many council tenants struggle to get basic work done at their properties, nearly £300,000 of money meant to be spent on repairs alone has been left forgotten.
“It is particularly concerning that around £700,000 of fire safety works were not delivered as planned - we’ve seen recently with the fire at Kingsway flats in Arbury that this is a really serious issue which needs urgent action."
Liberal Democrat councillors are due to raise this concerning underspend at the full council meeting taking place from 16:15 on 16th July.
27 rough sleepers were counted in Cambridge in the November 2018 rough sleeper count, one up one from 2017. Figures fell in some UK cities, suggesting that the problem is susceptible to local action. Market Cllrs Tim Bick and Nichola Harrison have published an update to their 2018 report.
March 2019 Update
What we learned in 2018
For our enquiry we interviewed numerous people living or spending time on the street, as well as 35 organisations/teams working in this field locally and nationally. We learned that this is a complex set of problems, with serious substance abuse and mental illness, often combined, now a growing issue. This can lead to chaotic behaviour and begging to buy drugs, and can reduce people’s motivation to get off and stay off the street. Progress can be desperately slow and fragile, even with high quality personal support. We found:
- a remarkable range of good quality services in Cambridge, providing accommodation, basic welfare, specialist interventions and medical support;
- active participation by the Police, but a lack of resources and difficult system for enforcing against street crime and anti-social behaviour.
- a strong sense of commitment and spirit of partnership among the people working in the field, but the need for a clearer vision and more systematic, leadership and service co-ordination.
Successes from our report
We’re not claiming all the credit, but we’re pleased to report progress with several of our recommendations:
- A review of Supported Housing provision is underway. We proposed this to ensure that services match needs and meet best practice.
- Plans are going ahead for Housing First as we recommended – a concept offering an independent home and intensive support to entrenched rough sleepers who do not succeed in the usual housing pathway.
- We are pleased to see increased promotion of the Street Aid scheme, which enables people to donate to homelessness charities rather than give cash to beggars.
- Our proposal for extended street outreach services to operate during evenings and weekends seems set to be implemented.
- We understand that our suggestion for a more person-centred support approach, giving continuity to clients, is being considered.
- Our call for the creation of a dedicated problem-solving role within the Police has been implemented.
What still needs to change
We’re clear that some of our other recommendations should be implemented. We’re continuing to push for:
The Cambridge Rough Sleeping and Street Life Charter, based on clear principles, to foster understanding and a sense of common purpose among the city’s political leaders and in the wider community. The Police have expressed support, but the City Council has rejected the idea.
- A Peer Mentoring scheme to enable former rough sleepers to provide support and advice to others. We have been told no resources are available for this.
- Closer working between the City Council and the Police on enforcement activity. We have seen no sign of progress with this and are concerned that the Police move from Parkside will not help.
- The design of safer drug injecting syringes, which shield the needle when discarded, in order to protect the general public, especially children.
In the last 12 months five homeless people have died in Cambridge. That is five too many. In a prosperous city like Cambridge, the fact that people are sleeping rough on our streets over the winter period is completely unacceptable.
We are calling on the city council to double its efforts on addressing the homeless crisis in our city by guaranteeing the offer of a bed for all rough sleepers every night over the winter period, not just on the nights when the severe weather emergency protocol is in use.
If you agree with us please sign the petition below.
Sign our Petition!
Councillors Tim Bick of Cambridge City Council and Nichola Harrison of Cambridgeshire County Council have published the results of their enquiry into rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge.
As local councillors, we know that local residents are distressed and concerned about the increase in rough sleeping and street life issues in Cambridge in recent times. They want to understand what is going on, what is being done about it and what more could be done - and this report tries to offer some answers.
In our enquiry, we talked with many people working in this field locally and elsewhere, as well as with people who have experience of living on the street. They told us about the range of problems that drive homelessness, including mental illness, substance misuse, family breakdown, domestic abuse, financial loss and debt. They explained how the increasing severity of mental illness and drug addictions among people on the street is making it more difficult for those individuals to engage positively with support and recovery services. We also learned how the growth in expensive drug addictions is fuelling street begging and our report considers how our community might respond to that.
We found a wide range of local services aimed at enabling people on the street to take up accommodation and access other support and treatment. The organisations involved include charities, housing associations, the councils, the NHS and others, working as a loose partnership on many issues. We found a strong spirit of commitment and collaboration among them, not least within the numerous front-line outreach services on the street.
Substantial basic welfare support is available, but many services focus particularly on progress and recovery rather than help that might only sustain the status quo. On this principle, much effort is applied to engaging with people who find it hard or are reluctant to make changes in their lives. Gone are the days when a bed at a night shelter was all rough sleepers could expect – these days support is aimed at meeting the overall needs of the person, to give them the best chance of maintaining progress and avoiding a recurrence of homelessness.
Accommodation provision in the city operates as a ‘pathway’ - from assessment and short-term accommodation, through supported accommodation to independent tenancies. The pathway has some flexibility for people who find its requirements difficult to accept, but, nevertheless, some people do not manage to stay on track and others are unwilling to engage at all. Whether that choice can be seen as a rational expression of free will, or only a by-product of desperate personal problems, must be judged case by case. We considered other ethical and practical questions like this, such as whether giving money to beggars is a productive way to help and whether rough sleeping can ever be eradicated.
Cambridge people are generally tolerant of non-conformity and their main concern is about the welfare of people on the street. However, many are also concerned about anti-social behaviour and problems like discarded drug injecting needles, and we consider these issues in the report.
You can read the full report on the web here.
The Lib Dems are disgusted to find council houses on Hawkins Road still empty a year and a half later, as Labour reject Rod Cantrill's proposals to provide support for larger families renting one of the City's 500 new council homes.
The Lib Dem housing committee proposal would protect larger families from the benefit cap under Universal Credit enable work to start on the much-needed improvements to the sorry state of communal areas on the council housing sites. Not only that, it would also have ensured that council tenants living in sheltered accommodation would still be able to rely on the council to undertake repairs to their properties without having to pay for them.
The Lib Dems are calling on Kevin Price, King's Hedges Councillor and Labour Executive Councillor for housing, to make good his own promises to deliver housing in our area.
Sign our Petition!